Friday, May 6, 2011

Toronto Maple Leafs 1951

The Stanley Cup champions from 1949-50 were not about to sit-tight with the roster which delivered  Lord Stanley to the Motor City. In a trade made on July 13, 1950, Jack Adams packaged overtime hero Pete Babando with Harry Lumley, Jack Stewart, Al Dewsbury and Don Morrison, shipping them to Chicago. In return, the Wings received Jim Henry, Bob Goldham, Gaye Stewart and Metro Prystai.

Once again, Detroit was a major force during the regular season. Several players in their line-up mounted an attack on the National Hockey League record book. Fully recovered from a major injury suffered in the 1950 playoffs, Gordie Howe lead the way. On March 7, 1950, Howe scored 2 goals against Toronto to set a new standard for points by a right winger -75- passing Lorne Carr's record set in 1943-44. On St. Patrick's Day 1951, Howe had his sight focused on breaking the record for total points by a any player in one season. With 3 goals and 1 assist in the scoring summary, Howe broke the record of 82 points held by Herb Cain (1943-44). At seasons end, Howe would register 43 goals and 43 assists for 86 points in 70 games. These statistics were sufficient for Howe to capture the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL's leading scorer.

While Howe and company were attending to the offensive production, Detroit had a new puck-stopper looking after the defensive end. On March 11, 1951, Terry Sawchuk shutout Chicago 7-0 and earned his 39th victory of the season. This feat resulted in Sawchuk taking his rightful place in the record book. The win was a record for most wins by a goaltender in one season. The final tally in the win column would be 44. Terry Sawchuk's brilliant year would be rewarded with his winning the Calder Trophy as top rookie.

Besides Howe and Sawchuk taking home major NHL silverware, Wings defenceman Red Kelly was named recipient of the Lady Byng Trophy. Milt Schmidt in Boston won the Hart Trophy and Al Rollins in Toronto the Vezina.

Red Kelly
Detroit became the first team in NHL history to reach 40 wins. They would conclude the 70 game schedule with a 44-13-13 record, good for first place in league standings. Second place was occupied by the Toronto Maple Leafs who finished with 95 points. This was a 21 point improvement for Toronto over the previous year.

The semi-finals opened on March 27, 1951 with Detroit playing host to the Montreal Canadiens. Home ice advantage in games 1 and 2 didn't seem to help Detroit. The Canadiens won both games in overtime. With the action shifting to the Forum, it was Montreal's turn to wither under the spotlight. The Red Wings rebounded taking games 3 and 4 by scores of 2-0 and 4-1. In game 5, the pattern continued as Montreal registered another road victory, out scoring Detroit 5-2. The home ice hex would be broken in game 6 with the Canadiens eliminating Detroit in a close contest 3-2.

The other semi-final series started on March 28, 1951 with Boston visiting Maple Leaf Gardens. In game one, Boston blanked the Leafs 2-0. Game 2 went into overtime with the score tied 1-1. Neither team was able to score in the first overtime period. Due to curfew laws in the City of Toronto, another 20 minutes of action could not be started after the clock struck midnight. The Leafs, perhaps, sensing the dire consequences had they lost game 2, kicked up their performance. They took the next 4 games and won the best-of-seven series 4-1.

Many in hockey circles consider the 1951 Stanley Cup final as being the greatest series of all-time. The rivalry between Montreal and Toronto being front and centre. The intensity and determination on both clubs was evident right from game one on April 11, 1951.

The final opened in Maple Leaf Gardens and overtime was necessary for Toronto to defeat Montreal 3-2. The game winning goal came off the stick of Sid Smith. Game 2 would end in the identical score, but with Montreal on the winning side and Rocket Richard scoring in overtime.

Fans in Montreal hoping to witness similar action-packed games which were loaded with suspense and sent heartbeats racing, would not be disappointed. Once again, games 3 and 4 were extended into overtime at the Montreal Forum. Unfortunately for Hab supporters, their team wasn't able to deliver any wins with the change in venue. In game 3, Leafs captain Ted Kennedy scored the OT winner a 4:47. In game 4, Harry Watson was the OT hero scoring at 5:15.

In one of the most thrilling and dramatic games played in NHL Stanley Cup history, the action returned to Maple Leaf Gardens for game 5.The teams went scoreless in the opening period, with each club being assessed a minor penalty. In the middle frame, Rocket Richard put Montreal ahead 1-0, but Tod Sloan responded to even the score.

Tod Sloan
Facing elimination, Montreal went into attack mode in period three. At 4:47 Paul Meger scored to put his team up by one.

A newspaper account describes what happened at 19:28 of the third period with Toronto having a sixth-attacker on the ice.

 Kennedy beat Lach to the draw. Got the puck back to Bentley. Max circled out front of the goal and fired a skimmer through the maze of arms and legs. Sid Smith raked the puck over to Sloan standing at the crease edge and Sloanie steered it into the open corner.
 That took the heart of the Habs, cost them a victory they had locked up. It was like having a man steal home on you in the ninth to tie the score.

The stake was driven completely through the Canadiens heart at 2:53 of overtime. Bill Barilko would score the biggest goal in Toronto Maple Leafs history. Coach Joe Primeau would add a Stanley Cup to his coaching resume to go along with an Allan Cup and Memorial Cup.

Leaf fans would add a special moment to their collective memory bank. They would have an entire off-season to savor the monumental goal scored by Number 5 - twenty-four year old Bill Barilko. So they thought.

In August 1951, a plane in which Bill Barilko was a passenger would vanish from the sky. His remains wouldn't be found until 1962. The Toronto Maple Leafs would not win another Stanley Cup until that task was accomplished.

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